If you’ve found yourself buying sports cards frequently or having trouble finding boxes in stores throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent report from eBay seems to show that you’re not alone.
According to eBay’s recent “State of Trading Cards” report, the trading cards category grew by 142 percent in 2020, with more than four million cards sold on the platform than 2019.
Sports cards themselves didn’t dominate the conversation, with Pokemon cards clocking in as eBay’s top trading card category in 2020, spearheaded by a 574 percent increase in sales from 2019 to 2020.
But, growth was still evident across the sports card industry throughout 2020, a year impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Basketball cards, one of the fastest-growing parts of the hobby, grew by 373 percent in 2020, highlighted by a 2019 NBA Draft class that included rising stars like New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant.
In a surprising twist, hockey cards experienced a bigger rise in popularity than football cards, with hockey growing by 258 percent and football increasing by 168 percent.
Last but not least, baseball cards, despite the fact that many use the general term to describe what those in the hobby collect, rose by just 73 percent.
But, each of those four sports, also known as the United States’ “Big Four,” pale in comparison to soccer cards.
Skyrocketing in the biggest fashion, soccer cards jumped by a whopping 1,586 percent, and likely contributed to a 162 percent global growth in trading card sales to other countries.
Those sales, across any of the sports, include individual card sales, but would also include sales (and the reselling) of sports card boxes that can be found at local retailers like Target and Walmart, local card shops, and online.
As a result, shelves at retail stores have turned into high-traffic areas whenever a vendor is restocking cards, and most products are being purchased after drastic price increases when sold online.
“Retail is typically wiped out as far as it’s concerned with newer releases,” Texas native Mathew Slaybaugh told The Swing of Things in 2020. “Presumably, people have more time on their hands at home, and/or people are finding that it’s a good flip online. Hobby boxes for 2019 and beyond are incredibly priced higher than usual.”
For those who open up those boxes for subscribers on YouTube as a way to preview products online before consumers jump to buy them, COVID-19 has been a blessing and a curse.
Packman, a popular card collecting channel on YouTube said the recent trends almost took him out of the game in the early stages of the pandemic. Now, after weathering the storm, he’s seen his channel rise from 37,000 subscribers in June of 2020 to 86,000 in January of 2021.
“It’s been positive to a degree because everyone, including myself, was stuck at home, so we were able to hop on streams together and more people had time to watch videos I posted,” Packman told The Swing of Things in 2020. “The downside is stuff got so expensive that it was tough for me to keep posting consistent content. I got it done, but the massive price jumps almost priced me out.”
The increase in both activity and pricing has many worried about the potential for the “bubble” to “burst” in the coming few years, a la the days of overproduction and a general market saturation for sports card collectors in the “Junk Wax Era.”
But, if eBay’s “State of Trading Cards” report is any indication, the hobby is at an unprecedented peak, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down at any point in the immediate future.